ISTANBUL — Over the years, as Turkey's European Union membership process stalled, I have seen plenty of blame on both sides. Ultimately, I never believed Turkey would become a full EU member, as the process was full of insincerity from both Ankara and Brussels. Now, it is over.
In all these years, I never criticized the EU membership process out of some nationalistic impulse. But I do believe that the goals of democracy, rights and freedom cannot be achieved by way of foreign pressure.
I also believe that the EU is not merely a union of political principles, and requires a minimum level of cultural proximity. I still believe this is true. I am not among the Turks who believe that somehow "democracy is alien to our culture." What I mean by cultural proximity is based around the way our daily lives are lived. France may be the most secular example of the West, just as Turkey is of the East — but one has Christmas and Easter and the other has Ramadan and Eid as official national holidays.
We never had time to discuss these things thoroughly. We could not, because the pro-EU camp in Turkey was labeling anybody with the slightest objection as an "ultra-nationalist," while the Islamist camp was clinging tight to the EU as a way to eliminate the hold of ultra-secular Kemalism.
Now, the issue is seen through new lenses. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) had managed to eliminate Kemalism and the hold of Turkey's Ataturk foundation, so it no longer needs the backing of the EU. At the same time, Europe viewing Turkey as an "Islamic Democracy" is over, while our Islamists fell out of love with the EU.
We should also note that the same Islamists fell out of love with values such as democracy, human rights and freedoms as well. Since "freedom to wear a headscarf" and "human rights to practice one's religion" were now guaranteed by their government — providing similar rights to the rest of the people did not fit to their plans.
Ties that bind
Recently, the EU has suddenly stopped ignoring the threat of authoritarianism in Turkey. But in the end, the discussion of who is right is overshadowed by the bald insincerity of each side. This doesn't, of course, mean that we shouldn't be asking what will come of the relationship between Turkey and Europe. Even if Ankara never becomes a full member of the EU, it has serious political and economic ties with the continent. Cutting these ties would be the wrong path to take. And this goes beyond diplomacy or even foreign business opportunities: in the end, it is about what kind of leadership Turkey will have at home as well.
We see the attitude of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the ruling establishment towards the West and the EU. They do not consider the values of democracy and freedoms as universal but rather cultural. And, it may be, that the cultural values of the West don't fit with ours. This means we will eat our yogurt in our own way, as the Turkish saying goes. At the root of democracy is the goal of encouraging different groups to peacefully coexist and securing the rights of individuals.
Is the real reason for the current standoff with the EU their approach to the Kurdish issue, their support of "terrorism"? Who would have intervened on this issue if we could have handled it on our own? We saw this problem with the secularist regime of the past, as we see it with Islamists today.
Both secular nationalists and political Islamists camps have always kept their distance from true democratic politics and the values on which it is built. The diffidence to these values clashes with their own respective claims to legitimacy via the "voting ballot" and "national will." Why are these concepts not "alien" or somehow "Western values' and the others are not? They have no good response because the starting point is always a yearning to run an authoritarian regime. Indeed, we have seen that in the West as well. So we can rightfully say that the EU cannot impose democracy on Turkey. But we also know that democracy will be totally lost by cutting ties with the EU. It is the proof that the Turkish ruling party's fight with the EU is actually a fight against Western values themselves.
Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.
It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.
More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.
But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:
Cleaner aviation fuel
The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.
While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.
Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.
In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.
Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.
High-flying ambitions for the sector
Hydrogen and electrification
Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.
One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.
Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.
New aircraft designs
Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.
International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.
The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.
Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airportcommons.wikimedia.org
Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.
The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.
Data privacy issues
However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.
Auckland Airport, New Zealand
The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?
At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.
Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.
40% of Swedes intend to travel less
According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.
But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.
At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.
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